Cubans Learning the Value of Free Market Economy

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MIAMI -- Ever since the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s, Cuba's economy has been on life support.

Cuban workers only earn about $20 a month and depend on the government for housing, food, and just about everything else. They live in one of the poorest nations in the Americas, yet their jobs are secure.

Up to now, that is. A feeling of insecurity is spreading through Cuba's workforce as leaders talk about cutting jobs and implementing reforms.

Eight out of every 10 Cuban workers are employed by the government, a significant drain on the island's already weak economy.

Last year, Raul Castro promised to fix the problem by laying off half a million workers. He offered laid-off workers permission to start their own small businesses, a departure from long-standing policy that kept most enterprise in government hands.

But for Communist Party members who might doubt his ideology, Castro renewed his pledge "to defend, preserve, and continue to perfect socialism and never allow the return of the capitalist regime."

Cautious about Reforms

Yet Cuba's revolutionary old guard can't hold on to power much longer. Raul Castro just turned 80. Last April's Communist Party Congress named him first secretary, formally replacing his brother Fidel, who's 84.

Another 80-year-old communist is his second in command. These leaders are very cautious about economic reform.

"Cuba right now is in a state of great confusion between shifting from purely a socialist, communist system to a quasi-market system," according to Teo Babun, head of a Miami-based charitable organization, ECHO Cuba.

Babun told CBN News that Cuba is moving not quite at the acceleration of China or Vietnam, and don't know where they're going.

Churches Helping Out

A handful of evangelical church congregations are not waiting for the government reforms. They're helping their members create their own income right now.

"The more aggressive churches have been allowing the individual members of the churches to partner with organizations outside of Cuba that will help them start small businesses," Babun explained.

So far, Babun said ECHO Cuba has helped Cuban evangelicals start more than 1,200 small businesses.

"We help them write a business plan, guide them in the process of how to start their business, and then bring them a business 'in a box,'" he said.

The "box" includes all the tools they need to start a business.

New Thoughts, New Ways

But Cuba's budding entrepreneurs must first unlearn what the Communist government has taught them for the past 50 years.

"The socialist model of Cuba, starting in 1959 - one head, everything coming down. They really don't understand how to meet together, how to create collaboration with each other, how to make decisions in a meeting format," Babun explained.

Now they're learning the basics of a free-market economy with their own micro-enterprise projects. And once Christians start their own businesses, Babun believes other key freedoms will follow.

"The freedom to be able to operate not only in the marketplace, but also in their place of worship, freely, without any kind of restriction from any form of government," he said.

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CBN News
Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at